Catherine Coulson remembered it as a “richly rewarding” time. “We had the opportunity to work things through and then see them happen. And to actually see them on film and to have it be good was so wonderfully rewarding. I’m very happy I had that experience.” It was for her the start of a completely new career and “every once in a while when I’m on the bridge of the Enterprise pulling focus and being in charge of several cameras, I think back on that time when Herb Cardwell said, ‘You pull this knob faster the closer he gets to the camera.’
“We became like a family,” she continued. “I got to know David better and better and we became really good friends; basically Jack’s and my home life became ERASERHEAD and oftentimes after we were through shooting, David would come over and we would all eat pancakes at our house. We spent a lot of time that first Fall with David and Peggy while Jack and David built the giant baby head in David’s back yard. We’re all still real good friends. Peggy and Jenny used to come down to the stables and Jenny would ask David if she could go play with the baby. I remember spending New Year’s Eve at the stables. We were all drinking champagne and Jack gave Jenny, who was about four, a couple of sips of champagne so she would go to sleep. We all listened to music and had a real nice time in our little home away from home.”
“The old gang,” said Alan Splet, “we still all know each other. That ERASERHEAD period spawned all these friendships. I’ve just got to say one thing: it was a really unusual way to make a film. It’s too bad most films can’t be made this way. It was a real group experience where everybody really shared. It was like a family for a while; everybody shared everybody’s problems. We shot a film, but there were all sorts of other dramas going on too that we all shared in. It was really an exciting time, and it’s sad that other films aren’t made that way. Most films are such a mechanical process; they come, they work on it, and they leave. It was a very rare moment in filmmaking. It was good to be a part of it.”
This small group of people, fired by the vision of David Lynch, managed to create, on a minute budget, one of the greatest films ever made.
Doreen Small summed it up for all those involved: “I think it never gets any better than ERASERHEAD got. Maybe it’ll feel as good, but I don’t think it can feel better than that. So committed to something, so proud of something.”
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I would like to thank the following for taking the time to speak to me during the preparation of this article: Ben Barenholtz, Jeanne Bates, Mel Brooks, Stuart Cornfeld, Catherine Coulson, Fred Elmes, Jack Fisk, Peter Ivers, Jack Nance, Laurel Near, Jonathan Sanger, Doreen Small, and Alan Splet. Thanks also to Steve Martin, David Lynch’s former assistant, for his help; and to my friend Tim Kulchyski for all those long post-midnight-screening talks which helped me to get a grip on ERASERHEAD. And thanks most of all to David Lynch himself, who showed not only patience and courtesy, but also an enthusiastic interest in this project from the start. K. George Godwin.